Where are you stuck in your life today? I think we all have times in our lives when we feel stuck.
The man in today’s gospel (John 5:1-9) is stuck. For thirty-eight years he has been sitting on his … mat. That’s a long time. Every day is the same. He sits on his mat. He waits and watches for the water in the pool to be stirred up.
There was a belief that this pool of water called Bethzatha had healing properties and that it could change one’s life. It was said that every now and then an angel would stir the water, the water would begin to bubble, and the first one to get in the water would be healed (John 5:4). The man in today’s gospel won’t move until he sees the first bubble. He is living an “as soon as” life.
He’s unable to see that the deep well of life is within him. He’s convinced that life will bubble up outside of him, over there, in that magic pool of water. And we all have our Bethzatha, our magic pool of water.
For thirty-eight years this man has been saying to himself, “As soon as the water bubbles I will get up off my mat. As soon as I get to the water my life will be better. As soon as I get into the water my problems will be fixed.” I’ve said that, haven’t you?
That is not, however, the life Jesus offers. The life Jesus offers does not happen “as soon as ….” It happens in this place, at this time, in these circumstances, here and now.
I don’t know what this man’s illness is but I’ve experienced it in my life and I’ll bet you have too. My guess is that every one of us could tell a story about when we were stuck. That’s about more than a physical illness or condition. It’s a spiritual condition, a dis-ease of the soul, a soul sickness.
Sometimes it feels like our life in general is stuck. Other times it’s more specific. We come to a stuck place concerning a decision or we find a stub place in particular circumstances such as our marriage, relationships, parenting, work, a sense of calling or a dream for our life, a deep longing or desire, faith and spirituality.
When I am stuck there’s no movement in my life. I’m not getting anywhere. I do, think, and believe the same old things. I listen to the same old voices within me. I repeat old patterns and behaviors and then wonder why nothing is changing. I let my past, what has happened to me, or what I’ve done and left undone define me. I identify with my wounds, grief, and losses. They aren’t just things that have happened to me, they are who I am. Out of fear or anxiety I frequently choose to remain with what is safe, familiar, and predictable rather than risk the uncertainty of something new. I often don’t take responsibility for myself and my life. I convince myself that other people or circumstances are why I’m stuck. If they would just change, I’d be better.
When I am stuck I live an “as-soon-as” life. Most of us know what that’s like. We say to ourselves or maybe even out loud to another, “As soon as this or that happens everything will be better. I’ll be happy. My problems will go away. I’ll be satisfied. All will be well.”
When I am stuck the waters of my life are stagnant. Nothing is bubbling up for me. My world is no larger than the mat on which I sit, and I live with the illusion that there is some magic pool of water out there. And “as soon as” I get to it, then….
Does any of that sound familiar? When have you experienced those things? In what ways do they describe your life today? What is the “as-soon-as” for you today? Chances are it’s pointing to a place in which you are stuck.
But here’s what I wonder. What if the stuck places in our lives are about more than our circumstances? How many times have we used our circumstances as an excuse to stay stuck?
I’m not suggesting that the circumstances of our lives are irrelevant or have no effect. That’s just not true. They do affect us. But what if we dealt with ourselves before dealing with the circumstances? When we talk about our stuck places we’re really just describing the symptoms of something that is going on within us. What’s going on within you when you are stuck? What if the stuck places in our lives are pointing to and showing us something about how we see and relate to our ourselves and our lives; our patterns, thoughts, and beliefs; and aren’t simply circumstances to escape or get away from?
Jesus does not help the man get into the water. He comes to him on his mat, the same mat and situation the man has for so long wanted to escape, and speaks words of life and resurrection.“Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
If this man is going to do that, if he is going to stand up, take his mat, and walk, he will have to let go of Bethzatha, the magic pool of water, and begin to re-image himself as larger than his history. He will have to reimagine himself as more than what has happened to him or what he has done and left undone. He will have to see himself as larger and more than the past thirty-eight years. And he will have to do it over and over again, as do you and I.
Where are you stuck today? You got it? You know what it is? There’s only one thing left to do.
“Stand up, take your mat and walk.” That’s Jesus’ call to each of us, to say to ourselves, “I am not what has happened to me; I am what I choose to become. I am not my roles; I am my journey. I am not my limiting experience; I am the creative power of my potential.” (Hollis, Swamplands, 127)
What does that mean in your life today? What do you see when you re-image your life and who you are?
“Stand up, take your mat and walk.”